January 30, 2023
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BlogsOne Step at a Time

First Amendment Rights Don’t Come First

A reflection on Flood Wall Street in NYC

The day after the largest climate march in history flooded the streets of New York City, a group of 3,000 impassioned citizens flooded Broadway outside the entrance of Wall Street, and a little over 100 of them were arrested after a long day of occupation. Five of the people arrested were my fellow Climate Marchers.


Here are Marchers Sean Glenn and Mack McDonald, two of the five arrested


Marcher Kelsey Juliana carrying Simon, 6, on her shoulders during Flood Wall Street

During Flood Wall Street and directly after, I was absolutely psyched about the event. During the People’s Climate March on Sept. 21 a few of us had overheard police officers calling it a “big parade.” Flood Wall Street seemed like a more tangible action — people weren’t just waving signs around for a few hours and going home. Way more people than expected showed up, the place was crawling with media, the police ended up pepper-spraying protesters and eventually there were arrests. There was momentum and the feeling of accomplishment.


I’ve had a lot of time to reflect on what happened since then and talk to my fellow Marchers, and as the excitement from Flood Wall Street died down, I saw that day much differently. I now see how tightly the police controlled us, and, subsequently, how watered-down our first amendment right to peaceably assemble was.


Watching us from the sky

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Heavy police presence

Even before the demonstration got mildly violent after a small group of the protesters decided to hit the hands of police officers while playing tug-of-war with the barriers, the police had a very tight leash on us.

Because I am not familiar with New York City, I didn’t know until a couple hours into the sit-in that we weren’t actually on Wall Street. One of the people next to me informed me that the street we were blocking was Broadway and the police had barricaded all entrances to Wall Street. The only people allowed through were workers with I.D.

When we first arrived on Broadway from Battery Park, the police blocked us after we passed the bull statue and we sat down where we were. Because I wasn’t at the front of the march, I didn’t see the blockade and I assumed when everyone sat down that we had arrived on Wall Street.


The sit-in on Broadway around the Bull

Later on, when the procession decided to move forward and actually occupy the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street, it was only because the police moved the barricades up and allowed us to. Even then, we still couldn’t access Wall Street. If we tried, pepper spray, batons and police horses awaited us.


Me perched over the scene at the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street

On a normal day, anyone is allowed to walk down Wall Street. But because we weren’t complacent tourists, because we had a goal to disrupt, we weren’t even given the opportunity to try. If we have the right to peaceably assemble, the police shouldn’t be allowed to block us pre-emptively. They should only be allowed to come in after the disruption has happened, after we’ve started the sit-in.

After Wall Street, I was forced to look back at my first time risking arrest two summers ago — which at the time had been one of the proudest moments of my life — with great sadness. The first time I ever participated in a sit-in I was not arrested because the police got to the building first and blocked the entrance. The entrance was still rendered useless, which was silly, but this way they didn’t have to bother themselves with processing us.

I have always looked up to Mohandas Gandhi as a role model for resistance and civil disobedience. However, I’m beginning to think the principle of informing police and authorities ahead of time just won’t work for our current environmental resistance. Warning the authorities beforehand has only resulting in thwarted attempts to disrupt a system that is slowly killing all of us. Frankly, we don’t have the time to continue doing cutesy sit-ins that attract a lot of media but accomplish nothing. We don’t have time to be thwarted; the wheels of climate change are already turning.

At Flood Wall Street, we pointed at the big buildings and shouted at the line of stone-faced cops, “We’re not the ones you want! The criminals are in there!”

How can corporations and the 1% can commit crimes against the environment and humanity in the name of profit and get away with it, but as soon as we the people stand up to them we are pepper-sprayed or hand-cuffed? The longer I am on this March the more I realize our government and leaders are no longer looking out for us. They no longer represent and protect the people. Safeguarding our First Amendment rights is no longer as important as quelling rebellion and preserving business as usual.

So I guess it’s up to us to do it. What are you willing to do to take back our rights? To protect our only planet?


Faith Meckley can be reached at fmeckle1@ithaca.edu or via Twitter: @faithmeckley